Thursday, August 29, 2019

Door of No Return 400 Year Anniversary of First Africans to Land in North America

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Emotions are raw as NAACP travelers tour Cape Coast Slave Dungeons in Ghana and participate in 
ancestry reveal as they commemorate the 400th Anniversary of Africans arrival to North America

It was August 1619, 400 hundred years ago that the first Africans arrived on the Dutch Man-of-War ship originating from Angola, arrived in the British colony of Jamestown, VA. According to most historians, these colonists were freemen and indentured servants. Some historians state that some were already slaves. For most, from indentured servants to slaves was a gradual process. They were seized from a captured slave Spanish ship by the Dutchmen and bought to Jamestown, VA. There were approximately 20 of them. Even though there were white and African indentured servants, the whites were viewed differently treated differently and in fact the blacks became slaves. Slavery developed quickly into an institution, into the normal labor relationship of whites to blacks in the so called New World. This bought about the racial feelings of hatred, superiority by whites, and contempt. Unfortunately, racism became important and necessary in the United States for economic reasons and for greed. People in Virginia were desperate for free labor to grow enough food to live. They needed labor to grow corn for subsistence, to grow tobacco for export. They could not force the natives to work for them. They could not capture them and keep them enslaved because the natives were tough and at home on the land. Therefore, it was easier to use Africans who did not know the land.

William Tucker was perhaps the first African to be born in the English colonies. In New York’s Hudson River Valley, Africans were imported as slaves to work on the farms of Dutch settlers. By 1649 the colony of Virginia had over 300 African slaves.

Later, most of the slaves were transported in the transatlantic slave trade from central and western Africa, who had been sold by other West Africans to Western European slave traders who bought them. According to the 1860 Census, there were 3,953.760 slaves counted which accounted for 2.6 percent of the national population.

Those racial feeling that started back in 1619 still exist today even though laws have been changed to eradicate injustice. Many laws were passed for the protection of runaway slaves and laws were passed to punish those who protected slaves. Slaves endured much abuse until after the Civil War which was all about slavery – although many claim it was just about state rights. Emancipation Proclamation and the Confiscation Acts in 1863 effectively ended slavery. However, a constitutional amendment was still needed to eradicate the institution from the entire nation. The 13th Amendment which was passed in 1865 ended slavery Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. During reconstruction, African Americans received more liberties than since their arrival in this country in that some radical Republicans were able to get legislation passed in congress which would; Civil Rights Act - passed in 1866; prevents states from denying rights and privileges to any U. S. citizen - 14th Amendment - ratified in 1868; gives the right to vote to all citizens (except women) regardless of their color, race, or condition of former servitude - 15th Amendment - passed in 1870; and empowers federal authorities to prosecute for violations of 14th and 15th amendments - Enforcement Act - passed in 1870.

Because the two great political parties sort of united after the Reconstruction ended, many African American felt as if their needs had been forgotten. Many of the legal decisions that had advanced African Americans rights during Reconstruction had been overturned and the Republican governments had failed to correct the problem of unequal land distribution in the South, a measure that might have given blacks the economic leverage they needed to protect their rights. Therefore, many African Americans became discontented and afraid for their lives and left the South by the thousands. Many moved to northern urban centers, such as Chicago and New York. Others moved to Kansas, a state in which there was an abundance of fertile land open to homesteaders and a strong Republican government that promised to treat African Americans fairly. During the 1870s, more than 20,000 southern blacks made the exodus to Kansas. There, many began to enjoy a decent existence.

This writer is the granddaughter of a slave whose name was Sam Eichelberger. It seems unusual since I am only 73 years old. My father, William James Eichelberger (a World War 1 Veteran) was 56 years old when I was born which gives me the status of a slave’s granddaughter. According to the census, Sam was 8 years old when slavery ended. He had been brought with his parents to Noxubee County with a white slave owner, W. H. Eichelberger from Newberry, South Carolina in 1860.

To commemorate the 400 Year Anniversary of the first Africans bought to the so called New World, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) with 300 African Americans made its way down to Cape Coast, Ghana to tour the site where many of their ancestors were held in captivity before being transported across the Atlantic. This tour took place August 18-25, 2019.

Vanessa Mbonu, who serves as the Senior Communications Associate, blogged about the trip as follows:

After being welcomed by the Chiefs of Cape Coast at the local palace, the ambiance amongst the group soon turned somber as the group walked in unison from the palace to the Slave castles where millions of Africans suffered in dungeons at the hands of Europeans.

As the group went from chamber to chamber, hanging on to every word as the guide narrated the painful history of the ground they walked on; the agony in the air was almost tangible.

“This has been the most life-changing moment of my life,” whispered an elderly woman to her daughter as they exited the female dungeons and walked towards the Door of No Return – the last port of exit before being taken away from their homeland forever. Beyond the door of no return was a beach washing ashore to a fishing town. Locals cast their net into the ocean for the catch of the day, others sat on the steps of the castle looking upon their brothers and sisters, generations removed. A soft breeze blew as blew, and the waves of the ocean crashed ashore – a scene so serene it stood in stark contrast to the atrocities which occurred at that castle four centuries ago.

“They called this the ‘Door of No Return.’ They didn’t want you to come back but look at us now. You have returned. You have survived, and you have returned to us.” On the other side of the door stood a placard that read ‘Door of Return.'”

Walking through the Door of Return, they took their seats, heavyhearted, as they waited for the results of the African Ancestry reveal. People traced their roots to Cameroun, Togo, Gabon, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal and more. The Haynes family, a multigenerational family of women traveling from Howard County, MD, were the last participants to be called. The crowd erupted in cheers and tears of joy when it was announced they were matrilineal descendants of the Akan people of Ghana.

At a gala during the tour, Vice President of the Board of Directors of NAACP Karen Boykin-Towns stated, "What a privilege it is to be in this country. As we make this journey, it's important that we take what we learn here, and use it to fuel the fight when we get back to America." Another traveler stated, "It’s truly ironic that as this country celebrates 400 years of democracy, the Black community is still fighting for equal rights, justice and freedom."

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Door of No Return, the door the slaves passed through as they departed their country to become slaves

Submitted by: Elmetra Patterson